What do you do when you hit that wall in the middle of the afternoon and your snooze factor increases by a thousand percent? Do you grab some chocolate? A sugary or energy drink? Coffee?
Well, these foods and drinks might give you a temporary boost of energy, they do so by providing you with a massive surge in cortisol – which, over time, degenerates your body’s ability to handle stress.
“Biochemically, stress does things in the body that eventually lead to the breakdown of tissue or to a dramatic disturbance in hormonal function,” says a description of the problem by the Web site BodyEcology.com.
The phenomenon leads to what the site describes as a number of our “modern disease patterns” which are heavily related to daily stress and, more importantly, how we adapt to and handle it. Such common disorders include, in no particular order, “obesity; diabetes; heart disease; autoimmune disorders like celiac disease, hypothyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis; gut disorders like irritable bowel syndrome; [and] hormonal imbalance, such as irregular menses or possibly infertility,” said the Web site.
Recharge the adrenals
These sorts of ailments are common, but they usually only occur after long periods of stress, which in turn has led to the breakdown of a number of body systems.
How to fix that? Maybe it’s time to recharge your adrenals.
The adrenal glands – walnut-sized structures located just above your kidneys – release hormones in response to stress. When too much stress causes them to overwork, they become tired, and a condition known as adrenal exhaustion sets in.
When that occurs, you can wind up feeling more tired. You can gain weight. You might get sick more often. Your adrenals won’t work well enough to maintain appropriate levels of cortisol.
The condition is not endemic to everyone. Some are better able to handle stress than others. But for those whose bodies aren’t as able to do so, they are more prone to adrenal fatigue.
“When we are locked into an on-going state of stress, we are responding to one small stressful stimulus after another,” says BodyEcology.com. “Add to that other common stressors like poor diet, lack of exercise, irregular sleep, and long work hours – and you have a recipe for adrenal burnout.”
That is especially true when we “internalize” stress.
Before the adrenals fall fully into exhaustion; however, there are a number of signs and symptoms that should tell you the endocrine system as a whole is heading in that direction. They include weight gain, mood changes, disorders of the digestive system, general fatigue, irregularity in menstrual cycles and low sex drive/sexual interest.
Throughout all of this, cortisol levels will rise and fall, and much of that will depend upon what you eat. It’s important to remember that the key to adrenal health is keeping cortisol levels within normal ranges (high cortisol contributes to weight gain that you can’t seem to shed).
So, you will need to stabilize your blood sugar levels – that is crucial because cortisol is released in order to maintain correct blood sugar levels (somewhere between 80-110 mg/dL).
To do that, you’ll need to avoid some of the things, most likely, that you binge on when you hit that proverbial wall of exhaustion in the afternoon: Excess sugar and carbohydrates. Instead, eat regularly throughout the day (fruits, nuts, low-fat organic meats, etc.), and don’t eat late at night.
“High levels of cortisol can impair several normal bodily functions including digestion, mental function and metabolism. In the fight-or-flight response, cortisol signals the body to redirect its energy away from normal functions like digestion, toward creating energy so the body can fight back in the stressful situation. A chronic high level of cortisol therefore can cause digestive problems and lead to weight gain.”
Experts recommend three simple steps to take in order to restore adrenal health. One, eat nutrient-rich foods that supply your body with authentic energy and power to control inflammation (eggs, whole-grain products, Omega 3-rich foods, beans, fish, whole grains, peas, beans, sunflower seeds and fruits such as melons and oranges); two, regular exercise will help control weight and provide the “feel good” endorphins needed to combat stress; and three, relax by yourself – meditate, read, listen to music – at least 20-30 minutes daily.
Finally, herbs such as Golden Root or Holy Basil also help lower cortisol levels, as does vitamin C.